Beijing strikes softer tone

Source: The China Project (11/29/22)
Beijing strikes a softer tone as it clamps down on COVID lockdown protests
In a press briefing today, Chinese authorities blamed frustrations at its COVID-zero policy on poor local management. Meanwhile, police are moving to identify people who attended the protests.
By Nadya Yeh

Police cars patrol a street in an area where a message that circulated online called on people to gather for a protest against COVID-zero restrictions in Beijing, on November 29, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter.

Beijing struck a softer tone at a briefing on its COVID-zero policy today, while giving a slight nod to the frustrations against the country’s tough pandemic restrictions that erupted into nationwide protests over the weekend.

  • China’s National Health Commission (NHC) vowed (in Chinese) to increase vaccination rates among the elderly, while also urging local governments to avoid excessive responses to COVID lockdowns.
  • “The problems recently reflected by the masses are not primarily about pandemic prevention and control per se,” said Chéng Yǒuquán 程有全, a senior official with the NHC per the Wall Street Journal, but rather that people were dissatisfied by poor local management of pandemic controls.
  • State-run tabloid Global Times published an article highlighting the press briefing, stating that control measures “should be lifted in a timely manner” to “reduce the impact of the epidemic on people’s lives.”

Police were out in full force in Shanghai, Beijing, and other major cities to deter any fresh protests. They were patrolling the streets and inquiring those involved or present at the demonstrations, while tall barricades were erected along the sidewalks of Urumqi Road in Shanghai — the main protest site — to block any crowds from gathering.
  • Chinese bots are reportedly busy flooding Twitter with ads for sex workers, pornography, and gambling in a bid to obscure and disrupt the spread of protest-related posts.
Students at multiple universities were also sent home early, as Chinese authorities keep a watchful eye over any hotbeds of activism at schools.
  • Tsinghua University — a cradle for the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution — held a meeting yesterday for students to discuss COVID-related measures, but stopped short of any mention of the weekend’s protests.
  • “The school is afraid that passionate youths will make trouble, so the students are given an early holiday,” said one Weibo online commenter per the Guardian. “They are afraid of the student movement,” said another.
The White House has cautiously weighed in on the protests, just two weeks after U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in a bid to ease bilateral tensions.
  • “We’ve long said everyone has the right to peacefully protest, in the United States and around the world. This includes in the [People’s Republic of China],” a U.S. National Security Council spokesperson said in a statement.
  • International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva also urged in an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday for a “recalibration” of China’s tough pandemic policy “exactly because of the impact it has on both people and on the economy.”

Nadya Yeh is a Senior Editor at The China Project. Nadya got her Master’s degree at the Global Thought program at Columbia University and her Bachelor’s at Williams College. She has previously done research at the China Institute.

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